Thursday, March 26, 2009

Pilgrimage through Mecca

We are parked in a sandy wash in Box Canyon, on BLM land, east of Mecca (map).

We knew about the boondocking opportunities here because we passed through this way just over a year ago, staying one night in a similar spot right at the upstream end of the canyon. On that trip, we noticed many such pull-offs throughout the canyon as we drove downhill to the small community of Mecca, north of the Salton Sea. We are technically "dispersed camping," which we may do here for up to 14 days. While many dispersed opportunities require a spacing of ¼ mile from the paved road, BLM rules here in Box Canyon require only 300'.

This area is well-used, and there are several fire rings scattered around (and some trash as well, unfortunately), but we are all alone right now, and we only passed one other rig, a truck camper, on our way up-canyon yesterday. I had, frankly, expected it to be more crowded. That's a good thing, not only because we like our solitude, but because the sand and soft gravel all around us make maneuvering Odyssey without getting stuck something of a challenge, and we need to be parked on pretty firm ground, which, here, means a small triangle at the confluence of two dirt tracks.

We're closer to the road than we'd like, but there is very little traffic here, perhaps a dozen or so vehicles per day in each direction. This is a great spot, because it is quiet, dark at night, and well-protected by the surrounding canyon from the wind, which is incessant and strong enough in this part of the state to make wind-turbine power generation cost effective.

Except when there is traffic, we can't really see the road from our spot here, and, with majestic rock formations surrounding us at every compass point, it has the feeling of being even more remote than it is. (As it stands, though, it is remote enough that our cell phones do not work.) It took us a while to find a firm, mostly level spot far enough away from the road, but, now that we're parked, we are settled in for the long haul.

Our plan is to spend at least a full week here. After we left the Morongo Casino yesterday, we made a quick stop at the Palm Desert Wal-Mart to return my Redbox video, then proceeded to the Valley Sanitation District wastewater treatment plant in Indio, which provides a free RV dump. There is no potable water available there, so next we stopped at the TA truckstop in Coachella to fill the fresh water tank. With two weeks of groceries already aboard, courtesy of our Wal-Mart and Ralph's stops on Tuesday, we are all set to spend up to the full 14-day aliquot here, if we are so moved. We'll be burning most of our trash in our campfire, and burying the pet waste in accordance with dispersed-camping guidelines, so it is only storing our already-giant pile of recyclables that will be a bother (we tried, unsuccessfully, to find a drop-off on our way here).

Even though my plan was to just chill out completely for the first day or two, we've already jumped into some projects. Louise has been a whirlwind of coach-cleaning, and I've replaced the inset mirror on the driver side of the coach (knocked off on a narrow bridge by an inattentive cowboy) and a burned-out license light on my scooter. I expect that I will whittle down the backlog of minor coach projects as the week progresses, including broken bay door latches, minor body repairs, faulty dash gauges, and reorganizing the tool and parts drawers.

Our decision to come here to the desert paid off last night, when we were able to dine al fresco for the first time in ages. Our general route plan involves heading up the coast on California-1, the Pacific Coast Highway, with a variety of coastal stops before making some visits in Monterey and the SF bay area (including many much-needed and overdue doctor visits for both of us), and we were 140 miles closer to that route when we were in Whittier. We'll go right by there again when we leave here, making this a ~280-mile detour.

At our current operating cost of about $0.48 per mile (with diesel at $1.99), it's therefore costing us just $135 to be here in this lovely, warm, and free spot. The extremely mild weather here also means we will probably average less than an hour a day of generator run time, or about $2.60 per day.

By contrast, we might have chosen, instead, to spend an extra week to two weeks driving up the coast, or maybe even in some kind of campground in the LA-to-Santa Barbara area. That would have been just as lovely, albeit much colder. However, the least expensive coastal stopping opportunities run $20-$25 per night, and that's for dry camping. In addition, the colder temperatures would mean an hour or two of Webasto run time daily, and more generator time as well. Even at just $20 per night, the curves cross at just over six days; every day we spend here beyond that saves us at least $20 and probably more like $25 or more. On top of that, being here forces us to eat in for all our meals; we know from experience that we are tempted to eat out a lot more on the coast, and more still when in developed areas.

Now that we're parked for a while, blog updates will be more sporadic. I generally try to post at least once from each and every place we stay, and this post is already in the bag. I will probably post at least once more, though, before we leave, and, of course, if anything interesting happens (such as an earthquake -- last night was the second swarm in this region in less than a week, and scientists are watching the San Andreas carefully). Otherwise, you will likely find more updates from us on our Twitter streams over the next few days.


  1. Hi Sean and Louise! I've been reading your post and our coach is parked not far from the T/A in Indio off the Dillon Rd. I think the water district treatment center is just down from our storage garage off Golf Center Drive.

    We're at our home in TN and have been watching the earthquakes in CA. We have been expecting the "BIG ONE" for 20 years. Our house there is on a solid granite mountain so we feel somewhat safe. They say the damage comes from the wave action on sand-filled land that will act as an ocean (waves).

    When we bought the house in Palm Springs, they told us we are secure on the mountain with girders built in the hillside... let's hope they are right! LOL!

    Have fun and relax!

    Mark in Palm Springs, CA / Memphis TN

  2. Sean & Louise, I'll try to get by mid day on monday for a short visit. Spyderman


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